What it is Like to be a Dad for the First Time

October 26, 2000

Carol, my wife, has just started her ninth month of pregnancy.  She is due sometime around the end of November.  As this is going to be our first child, both Carol and I are totally ignorant about the preparations required for this great event, except for the tips of my mother and my mother-in-law, as well as those of relative mothers of the younger generation, whose contributions are highly valued. 

The room for little Nadim is almost ready and so are the small gadgets required for his well being (pampers, bathing tub, baby shampoo, soap, and oil, hair brush, outfits, milk bottles, and … the list can go on).  Carol has also prepared her supplies required for the maternity hospital. 

What is more important is that at one point we have both managed to prepare ourselves psychologically for the venue and the welcoming of Nadim to this world.

Everything seemed to go smoothly during the eight months of Carol’s pregnancy.  Except for the first three months, Carol rarely felt nauseated.  She hardly ever had craves for specific food.  She was constantly energetic and active both at home and at work.  Her pregnancy, even until lately, was questioned by many for she did not have the apparent enlargement that other pregnant women usually have.

My mother-in-law has already prepared the cot where Nadim will sleep during the first few months.  She has spent a lot of time and energy to make it perfect, both functionally and aesthetically.  In fact, she seems more excited about Nadim than we are for it is going to be her first grandchild. 

My father-in-law, who is quite in nature, is impatiently and enthusiastically anticipating the birth of Nadim.  This enthusiasm could be seen in his eyes every time we visit them.  I remember a few weeks ago, while introducing me to friend of his, he proudly said, “This is my daughter Carol’s husband, ‘Abu Nadim’.”  I felt butterflies in my stomach upon hearing these words.

My parents are also excited about the birth of Nadim.  Their enthusiasm is a little different though.  They have had nine grandchildren from their other children.  They are also great grandparents.  Hence, their expectation of a new grand child is one of previous experience and not one of new anticipation.  Still, their enthusiasm is reflected in their preparations. 

Thus far, my mother has knitted one woolen white outfit for Nadim and is close to finishing another blue one.  The white outfit is identical to an outfit I had when I was born almost 34 years ago.

My father never ceases to check on Carol’s health and the development of Nadim.  His tips are also valuable since he is a pediatrician—now retired—and now heads a Mother Care benevolent society in Bethlehem.  His medical experience with children has passed first-hand on the well being of all his grandchildren and his great grandson.  Now he is passing it on to Carol to ensure that Nadim grows up to be as healthy as his nine cousins.

For some time, Nadim has become the center of attraction of the whole family.  All efforts from all those involved are made to ensure a healthy living environment for this new creation.

The recent political turmoil in Palestine, however, has crippled these efforts.  The living environment we all wanted to ensure for Nadim has become anything but healthy.

Since the outbreak of events—provoked the infamous visit of Ariel Sharon to the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on Thursday, September 28, 2000—life has stopped to be normal and all expectations for Nadim’s future are questionable.

Every day we are forced to hide from the Israeli shelling of Palestinian cities—especially during the night—and to avoid the heavy artillery fires of heavily armed Israeli military.  Sirens of ambulances and fire engines can be heard in the dead silence of the quasi ghost-haunted Palestinian cities carrying the injured and putting out fires.  Blackouts for long hours are becoming a routine causing the cold of early winter to creep easily into the homes.  A shortage of food supplies is evident in the market place.  Emergency lights, batteries, and candles are becoming a necessity.  But worst of all, unexpected outcome of the sleepless long nights—creating fear in the hearts of everybody—gives more value to life, as we struggle for a day-to-day survival at a time when we don’t know if we will live to see the next day.

Not yet born, Nadim is better off where he is now, protected by the warmth of Carol’s womb away from the life-threatening atrocities we, a helpless and unarmed nation, are subjected to day after day by the Israeli oppressors.

In our candle-lit hiding, and with the ticking of the clock on the wall, my father tells us stories of his youth and reminisces over the good old days.  Alternately, and at his wise age of 82, he brings bitter mention to the innumerable wars in Palestine he has witnessed, and which have been one failure after the other and which have caused us to reach to where we are at now.

Next to him—like Penelope awaiting the return of Odysseus from Troy—my mother is knitting the blue outfit for Nadim in an attempt to finish it before his birth.

Cuddling in the comfortable but cold sofa, Carol watches her tummy being kicked furiously from within every time she hears the echo of gunfire, as her adrenaline gushes through her system causing Nadim to react as if he understood what is going on around him.

Listening to my father tell his stories—while looking at this invisible life kicking within my wife’s womb and imagining how Nadim would look like in the knitted blue outfit—I sit silently wondering if life will come back to normal by the time he is born.  For I fear of the disappointment he will have, and I am afraid that maybe one day he will never forgive me for deciding for him to be brought to this world. 

“Kharab al beit”

November 9, 2000

“Alla yikhreb bitak” is the worst curse in Arabic you could wish to others who have hurt you one way or another.  That’s what my father-in-law told me the other day.  His analogy, I figured, did not stem from purely wanting to philosophize life.  Rather, it was used to emphasize a fact we are currently living.

This curse—which literally means ‘may God destroy your house’—is the last thing a person would want to have inflicted on one’s self. 

“In our part of the world,“ he continued this analogy, “people build their homes and houses after too much sweat and long years of laboring only to leave them, when possible, to their children.”

In a very similar token, the British say, “A man’s home is his castle”.  For some reason, this saying applies to the Arabs too and more specifically to the Palestinians, for each individual builds his home on whatever piece of land this individual has inherited from his parents.  Rarely would you see in Palestine apartment complexes.  Most properties are self-owned villas or one-floor houses where the whole family resides.  Thus, this inheritance, be it the land or the house, has some sentimental value for people.

Furthermore, the cost of building houses in Palestine is relatively high due to the nature of construction.  All houses are built of thick concrete external walls.  These walls are then clad with expensive stones of various hues and textures.  Though relatively abundant, these stones are expensive because they go through many processes in the stone quarries before they are ready for the construction phase.

These two factors—the sentimental and financial values of these houses—constitute the major wealth of all categories of people in Palestine, thus making these houses the most valuable tangible—and I stress ‘tangible’—possessions they can own.  Hence, “kharab al beit” could mean the shattering of long lived-for dreams, even for those less privileged who live on a day-by-day basis.

No wonder then that the Israeli occupation hits us Palestinians where it hurts most: our houses.  Throughout the history, since the occupation of Palestine in 1948, Israel has used the pretext of “unlicensed” and “unregistered” Palestinian homes throughout the occupied territories to demolish the shelter of thousands of people.  Houses that required years of hard work to be completed were demolished by giant bulldozers within minutes.  This is one form of ““kharab al byoot”.

Lately, though, this form of destruction, which still continues, has been complemented—and not replaced—by another form of destruction to serve the same purpose of demolishing the shelters of Palestinians.  This new additional form has taken a more savage and damaging perspective.  This time around, houses are destroyed from as far as a few kilometers away, using shells and rockets from tanks and airplanes.  What makes things even more dramatic is that the houses attacked are not pre-warned to be evacuated (except in very few cases).  These hits usually come unexpectedly after sun down.  The pretext used by Israeli in these cases is that they (the Israelis) had just been attacked and fired at by heavily armed Palestinian militia from within the Palestinian territory.

Whichever the pretexts and the excuses, Palestinian homes, especially the ones on the lines of fire, throughout the Palestinian territories have become easy targets for “field training” of Israeli military, be it by air, land, or even sea.

The targeted homes have left thousands of Palestinians without shelter at this time of year with winter having just set in.  In addition, the financial cost of these damages is increasing exponentially by the day making it very difficult for these home owners, many of whom have been out of business for the past 45 days, to allocate an amount of money from their savings to make the least reparations to their damaged houses for fear the renewed Israeli attacks would hit them unexpectedly once more.

Needless to say, the Israeli occupation has managed to turn the “kharab al byoot” curse into reality by destroying the houses of Palestinians.

Life of Terror

November 18, 2000

“When will this terror end?”  This has become the most common question circulating amongst helpless Palestinians during the past few weeks.

Since the start of the Aqsa Uprising on September 28, 2000, the atrocities committed by Israel against the Palestinians have increased tremendously by the day.  The latest events in the Bethlehem area have been the most severe in terms of damage: both on the psychological and the material levels.

The evening of Wednesday, November 15, 2000, the twelfth anniversary of the declaration of the state of Palestinian, started crawling slowly over the hills of Beit-Jala and the valleys of Beit-Sahour.  By four, people had started to seek shelter into their homes in anticipation of the unexpected that might strike once more, especially following the massive attack by Israel on the area the previous Sunday during two funerals that were taking place at noon in Beit-Jala.  On that Sunday, seven people were injured—of which two were children—two cars were totally destroyed and one house and one warehouse were also burned.  Let alone the scattered bullets that shattered through countless houses.

That Wednesday evening, and as people were still trying to get to their homes, Beit-Jala started being attacked once more just before four thirty.  The sounds of heavy shelling came from the settlement of Gilo that overlooks the Aida refugee camp and the northern boundaries of Beit-Jala.  The first round of attack lasted just about 10 minutes, after which it went silent.

The loud silence thereafter, and which lasted for almost half an hour, seemed to last forever.  The streets became empty suddenly and darkness had started to spread throughout the city.  No one knew what was to happen next.

Indeed, half and hour later, the sounds of shelling started to resonate once more in the distance.  Once more, the source of the shelling came from the settlement of Gilo.  But this time around, the shelling did not stop for a minute and continued until the wee hours of the morning.  Beit-Jala and Bethlehem were being targeted by continuous shelling of over 11 hours.  The shelling started off by heavy machine guns and as the hours passed the shelling increased to tank and helicopter shells.

Soon after, a total blackout engulfed the area leaving the people in total darkness for over 2 hours.  That is when fear struck most.  People had no means of knowing what was going outside: fear of the unexpected for each house was now a potential target to the helicopter shelling and no house was safe anymore.

Just like any other family that got terrorized by the haphazard shooting and falling of shells that night, we all gathered our emergency kits and headed to my brother Charlie’s house which is somehow safer than ours.  My elderly parents, aged 81 and 69, as well as Carol, my wife—pregnant and expecting any time now—Mona, my 27 year-old niece—who was stuck at our house by pure coincidence at the time of the shelling—and myself all headed to join my brother and his family.

Rena, my sister-in-law, had recently prepared the basement and turned it into a shelter to accommodate the family in such similar events.  The shelter, though small and with no toilet, is appropriate for short periods of hiding.  Its small windows are covered with metal.  Rena had put some old sofas, cushions, quilts, candles, and lamps in the room.  This is an attempt to provide adequate comfort for whoever ends up in that hiding.

My emergency kit, ready at all times, includes mineral water, emergency light, biscuits, bonbons, Carols’ medication, and a guide book on how to deliver at home just in case we might need to have Carol deliver during the shelling, this is in addition to dad’s asthma inhalers and my mom’s knitting kit.

Equipped with my emergency kit and with horrifying fear, we silently and hurriedly crossed the dark driveway under the shell-lit skies and went straight into hiding.  It was around 5:30 then, one hour after the first shelling.

My brother, his wife, and two children aged 8 and 3, joined us in the shelter.  All full of fear, we sat silently for a while listening to the distant heavy shooting and shelling hoping that it does not get near to us.  For over an hour, no one said a word as the shelling was higher than any vocal uttering any one would make.

My mother took out her knitting kit and continued to work on an outfit for Nadim, our son whom we hoped would not decide to come to life just yet for he was safer inside his mom’s womb. 

My dad took out his crossword puzzle book and pen, which he had in his pocket, and indulged in a challenging brainteaser.  It is a way to keep himself sane and to keep his mind stimulated at his wise age of 81.  Besides, this also distracts him from giving too much notice to what is happening outside. 

Carol sat down in her chair and cuddled herself under the blanket.  She had started to get cold and, since there was no toilet, she was worried that she might have an attack of diarrhea, one of the symptoms she gets when she is afraid.  In the back of her mind was little Nadim who has been kicking as if requesting to leave his own little hiding yet not knowing what lies ahead of him.  She was also worried about her parents who live in Beit-Jala which was being shelled.

Charlie and Rena managed to put the children to sleep after much struggle.  And when they finally did, they both sat in silence for a while before Rena started telling jokes in an attempt to bring a smile to our pale and scared faces.

Mona, having just returned from Jordan where she will get married by the end of December and where she went to prepare for her new house, sat in silence scared of the outcome of this imminent and endless night.

The ticking of the clocks seemed to have stopped only to be replaced by the sound of bullets and shells falling on the whole city.  What made things even scarier was that the sound of shelling was getting closer to our neighborhood until suddenly a huge bang was heard just outside the house causing the building to shake.  The sound was so loud, it seemed to be in the next room.  At hearing the sound, we all threw ourselves instinctively to the ground except for mom and dad who stayed in their seats but had put down whatever they were engaged with.

It was only matter of seconds when the whole room turned into a chaotic human rumble.

Rena, who was holding sleeping little Claudia, her three-year-old daughter, clutched her hard towards her and with her body engulfing the little body fell to the floor. 

Mona froze on the floor where she fell and let out a loud cry and she started sobbing and shivering while looking at my mom, her grandmother, with a look of helplessness and plea to help her out.  My mom immediately went to her and covered her with a blanket and brought her next to her in an attempt to ease her shock.  Her shaking hands were freezing.

Carol, conscious of her pregnancy and yet taken by her instinct, also threw herself down very cautiously to protect herself and her baby and yet making sure not to hurt him.

Charlie and I went down as well, making sure to screen everyone in the room, to ensure that no harm had reached any of us.  My stomachache, which had started with the first shooting a few hours earlier, had by now become more severe.  It was like someone was tying my intestines into knots.  I looked up at my parents and was shocked at the cool attitude they had both kept as if nothing had happened.

The room suddenly went silent and so did the shelling.  We stayed in our positions for a short while.  The deadly silence was killing our curiosity, wondering what that bang was and whether it had hurt anyone or damaged any home for it definitely did not seem like firecrackers celebrating the declaration of the state of Palestinian.

After ensuring that there was no shelling, at least for the time being, my brother left the room and went upstairs.  He wanted to investigate the matter, only to return to us almost half-an-hour later to tell us that two shells had fallen within a 20-meter radius from the house.  The one destroyed all the water tanks on the rooftop of his next-door neighbor and the second fell in an empty piece of land that belonged to another next-door neighbor.  Luckily, no one was injured or hurt. 

This however kept us on the alert until early in the morning, sleepless and restless, creating even more fear within us, since there was a big chance that the next target would be the house where we were.

What worried me most however is more dramatic than that.  I was afraid that if, God forbid, a shell was to hit the house, there would be no time to evacuate the place under any condition, having to protect my elderly parents—who already have difficulty in walking, let alone running—my two little nephew and niece, my expecting wife, and my other niece who was still in shock.

I ask, “When will this terror end?”  Our children and elderly are helpless, living in the terror inflicted on us by the continuous Israeli shelling of civilian targets, be it individuals, houses, or even cars, killing our people and leaving many without roof tops or even a piece of bread to live on. 

But most of all, such atrocities are definitely stealing away from us our basic elements as mere humans: pride, dignity, and human rights.  Why can’t we then enjoy these supposedly inherent elements instead of begging for them?

Arrival of Nadim

December 5, 2000

Carol and I received our Christmas gift early this year. 

Nadim  was born on Monday, December 4, 2000 at 10:30 AM  (Palestine Local Time), at the “Hopital de la Sainte Famille” ("Holy Family Hospital”) in Bethlehem.

Luckily, we reached the hospital the day before, on Sunday, December 3, 2000 at around 8:15 PM (Palestine Local Time) just about 15 minutes before one of the the heaviest shelling that Bethlehem and Beit-Jala witnessed.

Both Carol and Nadim are healthy and in good hands.

Facts and Figures

Delivering Doctor:  Dr. Sahar Al Araj-Marzouqah

Nadim’s Color: As Pink as the Pink Panther – his eventual complexion will be Fair (no eye browse, no eye lashes)

Nadim’s Weight: 2.825 Kilograms (6.28 lbs)

Nadim’s Eyes:  So far they are dark blue.  People say that this will change.

Nadim’s Special Features:  For a newborn, he has especially long fingers.